The Telegraph 2024-03-01 04:30:30

Revealed: how Putin plans to flood West with migrants

Russia is using private militias to control and “weaponise” immigration into Europe, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Kremlin has influence over a number of the main routes into the continent and border police are warning that, with the arrival of spring, Russia is likely to “intensify” its efforts to move migrants.

It has been widely feared that Vladimir Putin is using the tactic to destabilise Europe.

The Telegraph has now seen intelligence documents detailing plans for Russian agents to set up a “15,000-man strong border police force” comprising former militias in Libya to control the flow of migrants.

A security source said: “If you can control the migrant routes into Europe then you can effectively control elections, because you can restrict or flood a certain area with migrants in order to influence public opinion at a crucial time.”

It comes as migration is set to be a key issue in the general election.

A failure to control the number of migrants coming to the UK is already seen as a major weakness for Rishi Sunak, who is struggling to push through a scheme to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda to stop the flow of small boats across the Channel.

In the year to June 2023, 52,530 illegal migrants were recorded as entering the UK, up 17 per cent on the previous year. Most of these crossed the Channel in small boats.

Figures released on Thursday revealed that the number of people granted asylum in the UK hit a record high in 2023 as officials waved through thousands of applications in an attempt to clear a huge post-pandemic backlog.

 A surge of migrants into Europe this winter prompted by Putin could lead to an increase in small boats crossing this summer, when people smugglers make use of the better weather to send people across the Channel, putting Mr Sunak under further pressure.

Frontex, the EU’s border police, says it has seen Russia using migration “as a lever in a larger game of influence and pressure”.

The agency is warning that an increasingly isolated Putin choosing to move migrants to Europe’s doorstep – both along Russia’s eastern borders and through proxies in the south, including in Africa – is a major threat to security for 2024.

It comes amid growing tensions between Russia and the West, with Putin using his annual state of the nation speech on Thursday to warn that he will use nuclear weapons if Nato countries send troops into Ukraine.

The president told the Kremlin that “strategic nuclear forces” were “in a state of full readiness for guaranteed use” and boots on the ground could lead to “the destruction of civilisation”.

Mercenaries including the Wagner group have been fuelling migration by increasing instability and violence in parts of Africa under their control and by physically moving migrants to the borders and supporting smugglers, experts say.

Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, told The Telegraph: “The UK’s adversaries are weaponising the flow of people in Europe’s near abroad, as we witnessed on the border between Belarus and Poland and Lithuania in 2021, and exacerbating instability in the Maghreb and Sahel region through the use of proxies.”

The warning has been echoed by ministers across Europe.

Russia’s plans to set up a Libyan militia, as seen by The Telegraph, fell through when payments due to be made via the “the Russian-Libyan cultural institute” in Moscow were never made. No record of such a company exists.

However, thousands of Wagner mercenaries have been fighting in Libya’s civil war since at least 2019 for Russia ally General Khalifa Haftar, and the group has a stronghold in the region.

Antonio Tajani, Italy’s deputy prime minister, has said that Rome has intelligence that the mercenaries “are very active and in contact with trafficking gangs and militia interested in migrant smuggling”.

His government has blamed a surge in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean on Wagner, whom they accuse of waging “hybrid warfare”.

The largest increase in migrants last year was through that central Mediterranean route, according to Frontex, which noted that at 380,000, the number of irregular border crossings in 2023 was at its highest since 2016.

Women and children accounted for only 20 per cent of the total, the data show.

Frontex recorded more than 62,000 onward crossings toward the UK.

Amid growing tensions over the conflict between Israel and Gaza, Russia has also been strengthening its ties with Tunisia, another major source of migrants into the central Mediterranean.

Russian mercenaries are already known to be active across Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan.

Dr Sergey Sukhankin, a senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation and an adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington, said that observers tended to focus on Russian paramilitaries’ role in propping up African regimes, and not on the impact on migration.

“If we take a look at their map, you will see that the Central African Republic holds a strategic place, which gives the Russian paramilitaries inroads to Sudan, which is another key player, and then on to the smugglers’ route through to Libya,” he said.

“The migration routes are inseparable from the localities and places where the Wagner Group and other Russian paramilitaries are present.

“The various waves of illegal migrants from Africa might increase, because Russia is planning to create a new military facility in the Central African Republic. I think the capacity is about 2,000 men so this will give Russia additional leverage in terms of navigating those migration flows from the Sub-Saharan Africa region on to Libya and then on to the European Union.”

In its latest risk report, Frontex warns: “Given the extent of hostility between Russia and the West and the reduced interdependence between them, the likelihood of the instrumentalisation of migrants by Russia and Belarus has increased.

“Importantly, the instrumentalisation of migrants may not only be limited to the eastern land borders as Russia’s allies and proxies to the south and south-east could be leveraged.”

EU law defines “instrumentalisation of migrants” as a situation where another country “instigates irregular migratory flows… by actively encouraging or facilitating the movement” of migrants to the borders in order to “destabilise” the EU or a member including putting at risk “its territorial integrity, the maintenance of law and order or the safeguard of its national security”.

The European Parliament is in the process of passing an “emergency migration and asylum management procedure” to deal with the “highly worrying phenomenon” of “the increasing role of state actors in artificially creating and facilitating irregular migration, using migratory flows as a tool for political purposes”.

It started taking action in 2021 after Belarusian leader and close Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko sent thousands of migrants from the Middle East into the EU by inviting people – mainly in Iraq – to fly to Minsk and then bussing them to the heavily forested border with Poland and telling them to walk across.

Frontex officers were deployed to Finland in November when the country was forced to close several of its border crossings with Russia after seeing a dramatic spike in the number of migrants without proper visas and documentation, mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

Elina Valtonen, the Finnish foreign minister, said that it was “undoubtedly” Russia using migration as “hybrid warfare” and in some cases it was “actively helping” migrants to travel to the border.

A Frontex spokesman told The Telegraph: “These developments illustrate broader strategies that seem to be employed by state actors like Russia and Belarus, aimed at stress-testing the resilience of borders shared with EU and Schengen countries.

“This is not just a matter of border security but also of geopolitical tension, where migration is used as a lever in a larger game of influence and pressure. It is disturbing to see the desperation of people seeking to come to the EU used ruthlessly as pawns in a geopolitical game.

“While these incidents in Finland are currently at a relatively contained scale, they signal a potential risk that could intensify, particularly with the arrival of spring – a period traditionally associated with increased migratory movements.

“The situation could further escalate if there is active facilitation of crossings by the authorities in question.”

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Live Rochdale by-election: George Galloway wins as Labour tumble to fourth – latest news

George Galloway has won the Rochdale by-election, defeating the incumbent Labour MP with Sir Keir Starmer’s party finishing a distant fourth.

Mr Galloway, from the Workers Party of Britain ran on a pro-Palestinian ticket at a time when Sir Keir is under pressure to take a harder line on Gaza.

The ballot was triggered by the death of the veteran Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd, and initially looked to be a fairly safe hold for the party – given its 10,000 majority and commanding lead in the national polls.

But the contest quickly went south for Labour when it was forced to disown its candidate, Azhar Ali, over an anti-Semitism row.

David Tully, an independent candidate, caused a shock by finishing second. The Tories came third with Labour in fourth, Liberal Democrats fifth and Reform sixth.

Follow the latest updates below and join in the conversation in the comments section

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Christian Horner messages leaked to hundreds via anonymous email

Christian Horner and Red Bull have been plunged into a fresh crisis following a leak of secret evidence from the investigation that cleared him of inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague…

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Obesity now greater risk to global health than hunger

Obesity is now a greater threat to global health than hunger, a new Lancet study has found.

More than one in eight people in the world are clinically obese, as the number passed one billion for the first time.

It is now the leading form of malnutrition, with the number of people considered underweight falling to below 550 million.

Being obese or underweight are forms of malnutrition because in both cases people are not getting the right nutrients, vitamins and types of calories needed to be healthy.

Experts warned that children were paying the price for inaction on obesity by global leaders, with under-18s accounting for 159 million of those who are obese.

A further 879 million adults were considered obese, bringing the total to 1.04 billion out of the world’s eight billion people in 2022, according to the largest study of its kind.

NHS leaders called the study’s findings “alarming” and said obesity rates were “a ticking health timebomb”.

The analysis by a global team of experts, led by Imperial College London and World Health Organisation (WHO), revealed that the proportion of women who are obese has doubled since 1990 to almost one in five, and tripled among men to around one in seven.

In the UK, which ranked 78th out of 200 countries analysed for adult obesity levels, almost three in 10 adults were obese, with women slightly more likely to be overweight than men.

The researchers compared obesity and underweight levels around the world to 1990, when only 226 million people, or fewer than one in 20, were obese, including just 31 million children.

Meanwhile, the number of underweight people has come down over the same period, from 440 million to 347 million adults, and 219 million to 185 million children.

In the UK, one in 10 girls are obese and one in eight boys are, more than double the proportion seen in 1990.

Prof Simon Kenny, the NHS clinical director for children, said: “These figures will be as alarming to parents as they are to the NHS.

“Obesity affects every human organ system, and so at a young age can have a major impact on a child’s life, increasing their risk of Type 2 diabetes, cancer, mental health issues and many other illnesses, which can lead to shorter and unhappier lives.”

He said the NHS had set up 30 specialist clinics for people and families affected by extreme weight issues, but that the health service “cannot solve this issue alone”.

“Continued joined-up action by industry and wider society is needed if we are to avoid a ticking health timebomb for the future,” he added.

Professor Majid Ezzati, study author at Imperial College London, said it was “very concerning that the epidemic of obesity that was evident among adults in much of the world in 1990 is now mirrored in school-aged children and adolescents”.

People were considered obese if their Body Mass Index (BMI) was 30kg/m2 or over, and underweight if it was 18.5kg/m2 or less.

The data, which looked at 222 million people from 3,663 separate studies, shows that obesity is most prevalent in countries in Polynesia, such as American Samoa, where more than three in four people are obese, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, also called on the food industry to play its part in tackling the obesity crisis.

He said it would “require the co-operation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products”.

In Britain, obesity costs the NHS around £6.5 billion a year and is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer. It also increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

The Government’s current strategy on obesity has involved a levy on sugar in soft drinks, adding calories to menus and restricting where foods high in fat, sugar and salt can be placed in supermarkets.

But scientists say more needs to be done, with a ban on junk food adverts and the introduction of warning labels on unhealthy foods, among the proposals being put forward.

Prof Tim Spector, founder of nutrition company Zoe, told the House of Lords’ select committee on food, diet and obesity, that the Government’s current guidelines were “hopelessly out of date”.

“They are still proposing that people have low-fat spreads instead of whole foods or cheese or whatever, so very behind the times,” he told Peers.

“There’s nothing in there about eating whole foods instead of heavily processed foods.

“Even the NHS guidelines are very out of date. They state things like ‘you should never miss a meal, and you should snack regularly throughout the day’, and again focus on low-fat foods which all recent evidence and virtually every nutrition colleague I speak to doesn’t believe.”

He said it was “always the same committee that marks their own homework” and called for an overhaul.

It comes as a census found one in four doctors say most of their workload is caused by “social harms” such as mouldy homes and junk food diets.

The polling of 3,700 hospital consultants by the Royal College of Physicians found more than half reported seeing increasing numbers of patients suffering ill health owing to social and economic factors, in the past three months.

Almost one-quarter of those polled said most of their workload is caused by an illness that could be avoided and were fuelled by “wider determinants of health” such as damp homes, lack of healthy food, poor air quality, smoking and obesity.

Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “In the midst of unprecedented demands on the NHS and declining public health, it should be sounding alarm bells in government that so many doctors are seeing more patients with illness related to the wider determinants of health, such as housing or poor air quality. Everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe impacts our health.”

Why the obesity crisis threatens the world’s financial stability

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Biden asks for Trump’s help to pass border security bill

Joe Biden has urged Donald Trump to help him pass his border security package, as his rival blamed him for the deaths of “countless innocent victims”.

The president, speaking at the same time as Mr Trump on separate visits to the Texan southern border on Thursday, warned of the dangers of untrammelled illegal immigration and called on Republicans to “show a little spine” and support his proposals.

“We can do it together. You know, and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country has ever seen,” he said.

“So instead of playing politics with the issue, why don’t we just get together and get it done?”

Mr Biden’s border security package, which would see staff and resources on the southern border with Mexico increased, has been blocked by Republicans in Congress under pressure from Mr Trump.

On his own visit to the border city of Eagle Pass, 300 miles north of Mr Biden’s speech in Brownsville, Mr Trump blamed him for the deaths of migrants crossing the Rio Grande and pledged to instate a border wall if he wins back the White House in November.

He said “horrible crooked Joe” was responsible for the “blood of countless innocent victims”, adding: “Three years ago we had the most secure border in history”.

The presumptive presidential nominees’ rival speeches came as Mr Biden succeeded in blocking a Texas law that would allow police to arrest illegal migrants on the border.

A federal court on Thursday sided with the government after Mr Biden’s administration argued that allowing state police to enforce border security was a violation of the US Constitution.

The ruling will likely be appealed at the Supreme Court by Greg Abbott, the Republican Texas governor, who is locked in several legal battles with Mr Biden over his border security measures.

Mr Abbott had argued that state police should be allowed to arrest people suspected of entering the US illegally by crossing the Rio Grande into Texas from Mexico.

However, Judge David Ezra of the Western District of Texas said the law “slaps the federal immigration law in the face” by violating the federal government’s exclusive right to enforce border security.

Campaigners have argued the law would also make it harder for refugees to seek asylum in the US.

Death of Georgia student provokes immigration row

Immigration is expected to be one of the biggest issues in this year’s presidential election, with both Mr Biden and Mr Trump’s border visits scheduled ahead of the state’s primary on March 5.

The increased focus on border security comes after the alleged killing of a US student on a Georgia university campus by an undocumented migrant from Venezuela, which has turbo-charged the already fractious row over the border.

The death of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student at the University of Georgia, has transformed the town of Athens into the latest flashpoint in the political fight over immigration.

Mr Trump pinned the blame for her death on Mr Biden’s immigration policies on Thursday, arguing that she had been killed by an “illegal alien migrant who was led into our country and released into our communities by crooked Joe Biden”.

Mr Biden, he claimed, has ended construction of a wall to keep out migrants from Mexico, suspended deportations, dismantled asylum agreements and stripped powers from border agents.

Republicans at the state and national levels are now arguing for tougher immigration tactics as a result of Ms Riley’s alleged murder at the hands of a migrant.

In his speech, Mr Trump said that “horrible” Mr Biden would “never say Laken Riley’s name”.

The United States has the highest immigrant population in the world, according to Pew Research Center, with most coming from Mexico.

However, the number of migrants crossing into the US as a whole has declined in recent weeks, falling 50 per cent since the end of December.

Texas has seen a large decrease in migrants crossing into the state, as many opt to cross into the US in Arizona or California.

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Fewer than 500 ‘affordable’ Ulez-compliant cars for sale in London

There are fewer than 500 “affordable” cars for sale in London that comply with Sadiq Khan’s Ulez rules, data show. 

Just 461 vehicles that meet the capital’s emissions standards are available to buy for less than £2,000 in Greater London, according to figures from Auto Trader. 

Londoners can claim a £2,000 grant for scrapping older cars that do not comply with Ulez emissions rules under a scheme introduced by the Mayor of London last year.

Yet the statistics show that the supply of affordable Ulez-compliant second-hand cars has all but dried up.

This is despite assurances from the Transport for London that there would be “affordable” second-hand cars available, allowing Londoners with non-compliant vehicles to trade up ahead of the mayor’s Ulez expansion last summer.

“There is no need to purchase a brand new vehicle, affordable compliant vehicles are available,” said the authority in June. The Telegraph revealed weeks later that second-hand car prices had shot up 45 per cent.

Susan Hall, the Conservative mayoral candidate, said London’s Ulez had achieved little except increasing the tax burden on Londoners and pledged to scrap it “on day one” if elected.

She said: “Sadiq Khan’s Ulez expansion is nothing but a tax grab and his scrappage scheme has just pushed up second-hand car prices even further.

“Families on low incomes, small business owners and charities are being hit hardest by this daily £12.50 charge, which does next to nothing to improve air quality.”

Ian Plummer, commercial director at Auto Trader, said: “For those on a tight budget, there are few options for affordable motoring left in London six months on from the introduction of the extended Ulez zone.”

Of the 24,500 cars advertised on Auto Trader on Wednesday, just 917, or 3.7 per cent, did not comply with Ulez emissions rules.

To drive in London without paying the £12.50 Ulez daily charge, petrol cars must comply with the Euro 4 emissions standard, while diesel vehicles that comply with the later Euro 6 emissions standard also comply.

Although the two standards were introduced at different times, their detailed rules on permitted nitrous oxide emissions are the same.

Scrappage scheme 

Writing in The Guardian newspaper last year, Mr Khan claimed the scrappage scheme had been a success and helped reduce air pollution in the capital.

“I’ve funded the UK’s biggest-ever scrappage scheme so that people can afford to change their vehicles,” he wrote in September.

Affordability of new or second-hand cars is a concern for Londoners hoping to continue driving without paying the daily rate.

New cars typically cost between £20,000 and £30,000 depending on make and model. Prices for a Volkswagen Golf start from just under £27,000, while a battery-powered Nissan Leaf starts from £28,500.

Meanwhile, Auto Trader figures suggested that the average asking price for second-hand cars in January was almost £17,000.

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Ultra-processed foods linked to more than 30 illnesses

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are linked to 32 different health issues, a study suggests.

Fizzy drinks, ready meals and sugary cereal have become a staple of the British diet and make up more than half of some people’s daily calorie consumption.

The category is broad and includes anything that could not be made in a domestic kitchen with the definition being food made from “industrial formulations”.

A study of 45 different analyses including almost 10 million participants found that consumption of UPFs is linked to health issues including cancer risk, high blood pressure, anxiety, asthma and Type 2 diabetes.

The study found evidence that higher ultra-processed food intake was associated with about a 50 per cent increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and about a 50 per cent higher risk of anxiety and common mental disorders.

Data came from a range of sources including questionnaires and asking people what they ate in the last 24 hours.

Each link between UPFs and a health condition was graded and ranked, and the scientists from Deakin University in Australia, who conducted the study, have called for “urgent mechanistic research and public health actions” to cut down consumption of these foods by the general public.

Unconnected scientists from the University of São Paulo wrote in an accompanying editorial, also published in the BMJ, that labels on packaging, advertising limits and banning sales of UPFs near schools should be implemented.

The authors of the editorial also called on the United Nations to bring countries together and create a way for UPFs to be treated in a similar way to tobacco.

However, some scientists have criticised the paper and also doubted the assertion that UPFs are intrinsically bad.

Most of the links between the foods and health conditions in the study are of weak strength, with only diabetes, obesity, prostate cancer and all cause mortality having a “moderate” quality rating.

Reliably measuring UPF intake is difficult, as recollections of diet can be extremely flawed.

Gunter Kuhnle, a professor of nutrition and food science at Reading University, said that some of the claims in the study are confusing and exaggerated.

“My worry with the paper is that fairly weak evidence is pushed in a way to make it seem that urgent action is required, when in reality a large number of nutrition scientists (including the Government’s advisory panel) do not think that urgent action is required,” Prof Kuhnle said.

“There is a small group of scientists and publicists who push a narrative of extreme risk, which is not really supported by the evidence – and I don’t think they consider the consequences.

“When people [abandon] diet soft drinks for the “full fat” version because of what they heard about sweeteners, they are at much higher risk of obesity and diabetes.”

Dr Duane Mellor, a dietitian and senior lecturer at Aston University, said the statistical methodology of the study leaves it open to flaws, and “the findings of this analysis might not represent what the real effect actually is”.

“The results reported in this paper could be a significant over- or underestimate of what the true associated link between ultra-processed foods and health might be.”

But Dr Daisy Coyle, a dietician at the George Institute for Global Health in London, said the study “highlights a troubling reality” about the risks of UPFs.

“The statistics are staggering – these foods may double your risk of dying from heart disease or from developing a mental health disorder,” she said.

Ultra-processed foods are harming our health – here’s everything you need to know

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